How fractional working could add up for individuals and employers

February 19, 2024
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Harvey Nash UK&I, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, Australia and Spinks Managing Director Andy Heyes discusses a trend that has been been emerging recently - fractional working. This article first appeared on

Working patterns have transformed in recent years, with a significant rise in flexibility including hybrid and remote working. Although there is something of a return to in-office working again as Covid recedes into history (our research suggesting that three days a week in the office is becoming the norm), nevertheless one of the pandemic’s legacies is a shift in how individuals work and engage with their employer.

Alongside this, there is another emerging trend which may become increasingly common in future years – the notion of fractional working. This is essentially where an individual works on a freelance or contractor basis – but has a portfolio of part-time assignments simultaneously. It’s an established mode for certain senior roles – such as a fractional CISO or CIO – but is beginning to spread further down the layers of the workforce to include more junior positions.

This is still relatively rare in the UK, where the great majority of freelancers work on one full-time contract at a time, but is something we are beginning to see more frequently in regions such as Europe.

Attractions of the fractional working model

From an individual’s perspective, there are several attractions to the fractional model. It brings greater freedom to take on a wider range of assignments, increasing the variety of the working week, with the opportunity to develop new skillsets and specialisms. It increases an individual’s independence and makes them less reliant on any one employer. It also means that there is scope to arrange a workload that allows other activities alongside – ideal for those who are also studying or have parental or caring responsibilities.

In this sense, it is a model that may appeal to the Millennial generation, many of whom particularly value their independence and are reluctant, especially at an early stage of their careers, to commit themselves to one entity or pathway. There are also obvious potential attractions for groups such as returning mothers, who need to balance their work schedules with personal commitments.

It won’t appeal to everyone, of course. There is a much higher degree of unpredictability and uncertainty, with no guarantee that an individual will be able to secure the number of hours they need. However, if the trend becomes more established then we can expect more fractional roles to come onto the market, giving candidates greater scope to mix and match their working schedule.

What’s in it for employers?

From the employer’s perspective, there are a number of strong reasons why this may be something to consider. Firstly, it opens up a wider talent field to draw from and may help businesses address the skills shortages that still plague the technology market.

Nash Squared’s 2023 Digital Leadership Report found that 54% of digital leaders say skills shortages continue to prevent them from keeping up with the pace of change. The most scarce skills are data engineers, enterprise architects, software engineers and technical architects.

Secondly, sourcing some positions through the fractional model could help organisations boost their diversity and inclusion profiles. Increasing diversity in tech has become a strategic priority for many employers: fractional workers are likely to be a diverse group with a wide range of characteristics.

Embracing fractional working for some roles could also make employers more precise in the work they allocate to freelancers. There is greater scope to be very specific about hours, tasks and targets – meaning less wastage compared to contracting with someone on a full-time basis. Although it means more administration due to a higher number of roles and freelancers, it could actually make the business more cost- and time-efficient.

The fractional leader

At a senior level, the fractional or vCISO/CIO has already become an established part of the technology working landscape – and we can expect to see growth here too. For example, there are more regulations emerging requiring businesses to have a CISO.

Not all companies need a full-time CISO (particularly small to medium-sized companies) – but they all need an effective security programme. By engaging a fractional executive, businesses can more surgically apply their professional capabilities, driving up efficiency and pushing down resource costs.

For many companies, it's simply having access to a highly experienced professional who has the scars and bruises of having done it before, knows where the pitfalls are, and the tactics that have proven results, and that in and of itself can save a great deal of time, money, and reduce risk.

It appeals to many senior and experienced professionals too, especially as they reach the later stages of their career when they may no longer want or need a full-time role. It is an opportunity for them to bring to bear decades of experience in helping organisations improve their technology and security programmes in actionable and pragmatic ways.

In tune with the times

At the same time, fractional team members are likely to become more common too – from coders and developers to architects, engineers and analysts. One of the triggers for this may be increasing levels of scrutiny of the tax arrangements of freelance and contingent workers, such as the UK’s IR35 regime which brings more individuals onto company payrolls and taxes them at source. Fractional workers are more clearly independent of the businesses they work for and so exempt from this.

But it is also likely to grow simply because it is in tune with changing attitudes towards careers and work. There are advantages to be gleaned on both sides – and so we can expect to see growing numbers of fractional workers, and employers seeking them, in the years to come.

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